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Turnovers, penalties do in Bears

Craig Harper
Special to the Post Independent

Conifer 21, Rifle 10

Rifle 0 0 10 0 – 10

Conifer 7 7 0 7 – 21

C – Kailib Geer 10 run (Erich Schreier kick).

C – Geer 82 run (Schreier kick).

R – Bailey Hoffmeister 1 run (Eduardo Sandoval kick).

R – Sandoval 32 field goal.

C – Brandon Payer 27 run (Schreier kick).

CONIFER — It’s become a fatal case of pick-your-poison for the Rifle High School football team the last two weeks.

The obvious culprit is turnovers. Three of them proved a difference maker for the Bears in a loss to Palisade on Oct. 6. Four more — including a fumble on third-and-goal from the 1-yard line as Rifle was primed to seize the lead in the fourth quarter — doomed Bears in Saturday’s 21-10 nonleague loss to Conifer.

Rifle coach Damon Wells, however, didn’t hesitate adding penalties to the mix after the Bears, ranked No. 1 in Class 3A two weeks ago, fell to 5-2.



“I don’t know which was more harmful to us today, turnovers or penalties,’’ Wells said. “I don’t know if we’ve ever been penalized in any one game as much as we were today. This is my 17th year and I don’t think we’ve ever been penalized this much. But, it gives us something to work on.”

Actually, Rifle was yellow-flagged seven times to Conifer’s 10, but timing was the key. Back-to-back major penalties short-circuited a potential scoring drive after the Lobos (5-2 and winners of three straight since a one-point loss to Evergreen) went up 14-0 on an 82-yard scoring run by Kailib Geer. Later in the second quarter, a 15-yard infraction from the Conifer 26 spoiled another scoring chance.



But the turnovers led directly to two Conifer touchdowns and stopped the Bears twice in scoring territory, notably a fumbled handoff from the 1 halfway through the fourth quarter with the Lobos up, 14-10.

“Maybe we win it with a touchdown,’’ Wells said. “I absolutely saw it, but I don’t really have any comment on it. We didn’t make a play when we had to make a play. No excuses. We just didn’t play as well as we could. And, again, there was a little too much adversity today to overcome. I think that kind of sums up all of the factors.’’

A tipped interception of a Layton Stutsman pass on the game’s third play from scrimmage set up Geer for his first touchdown, a 10-yard run. On the first play of the second quarter, Rifle was driving at the Conifer 31 when Stutsman completed a short pass, which was fumbled after the completion. Geer later broke his 82-yarder to the outside, slipping a tackle at the Conifer 35 before outrunning Rifle’s defense to the end zone.

After attempting 14 passes and completing six for 54 yards in the first half, Rifle turned to what it does best in the second half: running the football. The Bears drove 70 yards on seven rushing plays with their first possession of the third quarter, with Bailey Hoffmeister scoring from a yard out.

Rifle’s defense, which stymied Conifer except for Geer’s long run, immediately got the ball back when Zach Bare recovered a Geer fumble at the Lobo 16. The Bears settled for Eduardo Sandoval’s 32-yard field goal, making it 14-10, then got the ball back to start the fourth quarter and marched 79 yards to the 1 in 16 plays — all but one a rush — before the fumble.

Conifer added a final touchdown with 2:21 left after recovering a muffed punt.

The Bears finished with 213 yards rushing, well below their season average of 339.3, most of it from the foursome of Javier Nunez (59), Kellin Leigh (54), Stutsman (44) and Clark (37). Stutsman finished 8-of-18 passing for 74 yards, and Austin Knight had three catches for 38 yards.


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